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We're now in the final quarter of the regular season, and a new round of NFL Power Rankings shows just how crazy the first three quarters were.
After spending nearly the entire season at the No. 1 spot, the New England Patriots are falling fast following their second-straight loss. This one came at home as the Philadelphia Eagles whipped the Pats en route to a 35-28 win, that was never even that close until the final minutes.
Every ranking still has New England in the top five, but barely. It's clear the injury-riddled Pats aren't the same caliber of contender they are when guys like Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins and Rob Gronkowski are healthy. Getting those guys back will be key to New England being a real Super Bowl threat.
As for the Cincinnati Bengals, they continue to slowly climb back up the rankings. After a two-game losing streak knocked Cincinnati to around the No. 5 spot, they are now back in the top three of several rankings, including ESPN's, who offered praise for A.J. Green reaching another career milestone:
A.J. Green has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards in a season once again. The list of receivers with 1,000 receiving yards in each of their first five seasons? Green and Randy Moss.
SB Nation's Danny Kelly also ranked the Bengals third while saying they "probably have the deepest and most talented roster in the NFL this year," and he doesn't seem much difference between them and the Carolina Panthers.
Like Carolina, Cincinnati is very balanced on offense and defense with very few exploitable vulnerabilities, and it has completely annihilated its last two opponents by the combined score of 68-10. Importantly, Cincy currently holds the inside track for the top seed in the AFC, so it's looking likely that the road to the Super Bowl could go through Paul Brown Stadium. Barring some collapse by Andy Dalton (which looks less likely with every passing week), it's very tough to pick against the Bengals in any matchup down the stretch.
NFL.com's Elliot Harrison also ranked the Bengals third following an impressive win over the Browns. Then again, everyone looks impressive against the Brows these days.
Cincy sure looked darn good Sunday. (Of course, if you divide by the Browns factor, maybe they were simply solid.) Everyone got into the act: Jeremy Hill rushed for 98 yards, A.J. Green posted 102 yards in the first half and Marvin Jones contributed a nice touchdown late. Meanwhile, the defense accomplished something no NFL team has been able to do: contain Austin Davis.
USA Today made sure to give the Bengals' defense a shout out while ranking Cincy fourth.
League's stingiest defense has allowed 10 points or fewer in five of last six weeks and 10 total over last two games.
Though Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab ranked the Bengals fifth, he admitted there may be no real separation between them and the Broncos and Patriots atop the AFC.
The top three of the AFC is very strong. You can make an argument for any of the three being the best. And it's the Bengals who, at the moment, hold the No. 1 seed.
There's really no question about it, the Bengals are a contender for not only a spot in the Super Bowl, but to win it outright. While a big reason why is Cincinnati's dramatic improvements on both sides of the ball, it also helps that there's no truly dominant team in the AFC like there typically has been at least one of every season.
Last year, it was clear the Patriots in the AFC and Seattle Seahawks in the NFC were the teams to beat. The year prior, it was those two along with the Denver Broncos who were the top three teams in the league. The Panthers may be undefeated this season, but even they are struggling to beat weaker teams like the New Orleans Saints.
As for the Bengals' next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the verge of another late-season push that could get them into the playoffs. Every ranking has them inside the top 10 and as high as seventh. Even though the Bengals won in Pittsburgh earlier this season, this is still going to be a dogfight that should come down to the fourth quarter, as is the case in seemingly every matchup in this rivalry.
The other two teams in the AFC, the Browns and Ravens are both in the bottom three to five teams in just about every power ranking. It's funny to think many "experts" predicted the Ravens as Super Bowl 50 champions prior to the start of the season.
Here's a roundup of each major power ranking from this week compared to last week.
|CBS Sports (Pete Prisco)||3||4||1|